There are times in some bands’ careers when, in order to take the next step forward, it first has to take a step back.
That is what has occurred with Cincinnati-based desert-rockers Valley of the Sun between the release of 2013’s Electric Talons of the Thunderhawk and the recently-released album Volume Rock. For the new full-length (issued in late April through Swedish-based label Fuzzorama Records), the duo — guitarist/vocalist Ryan Ferrier and drummer Aaron Boyer — has toned down some of Thunderhawk’s more eclectic and intricate tendencies in favor of bombastic and driving rhythms. This has resulted in album that has lost a little musical depth, but has gained a far greater grip on the listener’s ear.
Volume Rock establishes its tonal shift right out of the gate with a trio of absolutely monumental Rock & Roll bangers. “Eternal Forever,” “Wants and Needs” and “The Hunt” showcase the strengths that Valley has spent so much time and effort honing. Ferrier’s soaring vocals have a range and power that commands the listener’s attention, while Boyer hits his cymbals with the strength of a meteor crash, his playing drawing your attention whenever Ferrier isn’t on the mic. Weaving throughout is Ferrier’s clean and infectious guitar work, with riff layered upon riff and crafting an auditory sandwich that headbangers are sure to want of bite of. But VotS retains its deeper side on Volume Rock, with Ferrier’s lyrics carrying many of his ongoing themes of higher consciousness, personal introspection and Earth’s natural beauty. It’s just that on this go around, the lyrics are wrapped in even more hooks, making the tracks more instantly and irresistibly sing-along-worthy.
This isn’t to say that Volume Rock is simple or toned down. It’s just that the flourishes found within seem designed to be more easily replicated (and perhaps more impactful) live, and overall there is a more natural feel to the songs. Hand claps, tambourine, a 12-string guitar interlude in “Land of Fools” and other ornamentation give the album a fresh sound while still keeping the tonal theme running through the entirety of its nine tracks.
Like Thunderhawk, Volume Rock features a reworking of a track from VotS’s first EP, 2010’s five-song Two Thousand Ten. But whereas Thunderhawk’s version of “Centaur Rodeo” added different drumming parts and a few other embellishments, Volume Rock’s re-do of “I Breathe the Earth” is more heavily tweaked, bolstering the song’s strengths and mending some weaknesses, while also adding more than a minute to its original running time. The backing vocals are stronger and more dynamic, the guitar tone has more depth and the drumming sounds fuller. With “Earth,” Valley of the Sun was able to take a song that longtime fans already loved and make it even better.
While Volume Rock is undoubtedly a fast and furious LP, fans of the VotS’s more expansive work will still find plenty to love. Of special note is “Speaketh the Shaman” and album closer, “Empty Visions.” Both songs exceed the five-minute mark (not uncommon for the band), showcasing Ferrier’s guitar work by giving the licks more room to breathe. Ferrier’s vocals also expand to throat-ripping levels, and the combination of his guitar and voice swirl through the tracks like the smoke from a, uh, “cigarette,” filling your speakers with righteous Desert Rock majesty.
In many ways, Volume Rock’s name says it all. This is an album that deserves to be turned to 11. It’s the perfect accompaniment to rolled-down windows, long stretches of highway and summer heat. Valley of the Sun spent three years between releases and the musicians used the time to focus on what made the band what it is, and then pushing those qualities to the forefront. In that respect, Volume Rock is a success — while there may be less going on in each song, there’s more of the band’s essence and identity throughout the album. And that identity is too loud to be snubbed.
Valley of the Sun is currently on another extensive tour overseas promoting Volume Rock, which is available in the States on most major digital platforms (like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Spotify). Certain mail-order services (like Amazon and musicdirect.com) also offer the hard-copy versions on CD and vinyl. You can also stream or purchase the album at Fuzzorama’s Bandcamp site here, or by clicking one of the embedded tracks above.
Yesterday marked the passing of not only Prince, but another music legend — Lonnie Mack. Mack, who was born in Harrison, Ind., and cut his teeth in Greater Cincinnati’s nightclubs, died Thursday at his home in Tennessee from natural causes. The influential guitarist was 74.
Recording locally and releasing early material on Cincinnati’s Fraternity label, Mack’s guitar playing is said to have been a major influence on many Rock superstar players, including Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. The pioneering guitarist was the second artist to receive the Michael W. Bany Lifetime Achievement Award from the Enquirer’s former awards program, the Cammys, accepting the award in 1998. Bootsy Collins, who won the award the year before, has said Mack was a giant influence on the development of his style.
Mack is considered one of Rock & Roll’s first “guitar heroes.” He’s in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the International Guitar Hall of Fame, and should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Here’s the press release sent out by Alligator Records (Mack’s final label) late last night:
Although The MudLarks! have only been playing together in this incarnation for the past six years, the band — which began life as the Go to Hells in 2010 and switched to its current moniker in 2012 — boasts an experiential timeline among its four members that, if viewed consecutively, would stretch back to a pre-Civil War calendar. Now that's entertainment.
The illustrious resumes that the individual MudLarks! — vocalist/guitarist T. Lothar Witt, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Jimmy Davidson, bassist/vocalist Bob "Lamb" Lambert, and drummer Max Cole — have accumulated collectively over the past four decades is a core sample of some of Greater Cincinnati's most infamous and well-regarded bands across a broad sonic spectrum, from the glistening Indie Rock of The Libertines (now with the legally appended “US” tagged on) and The Highwaymen, the Punk slash of The Reduced, The Headaches and The Rituals and the experimental howl of 11,000 Switches, Cointelpro and BPA, to the twisted Americana stomp of the Wolverton Brothers and the New Wave bounce of Blanco Nombre and the Babettes. Then there's the long distance listings of The Reducers, Ricky Barnes & the Hoot Owls and probably a few that the quartet has inadvertently or deliberately overlooked due to time, tide, roadburn and hangover.
And so The MudLarks! — complete with two capital letters in one word and a Hamiltonian exclamation point — have assembled like a grizzled, creaky yet still powerful Transformer of wildly disparate but somehow completely compatible influences to create their singular Indie Punk mash up of local, regional and national music history in 10 tracks and a little over 46 minutes. Not bad for a bunch of guys whose next tour could be sponsored by AARP.
The MudLarks!'s eponymous debut disc, released by New York's Ionik Recordings Company, who also released the latest Wolvertons EP, Liberty Hotel, last year, whipcracks to immediate life with opener "Help Us;" guitars spark and smoulder like vintage Neon Boys/Voidoids while Witt roars with the phlegm-choked outrage of Johnny Rotten in his Pistols-to-PIL transition. It's the perfect launching pad for The MudLarks!'s first studio foray, as the foursome careens madly from the Pere-Ubu-disguised-as-accessible-Indie-Rock-outfit chaos of "Red Window" to the late-'70s-English-Punk-translated-to-downtown-NYC swagger of "Dirty Things" to the irresistible Iggy-Pop-James-Williamson tag-team cage squall of "You Love You."
The MudLarks! are equally adept at slowing down the pace when necessary. "Mea Culpa" drops tempo while maintaining a booted throat intensity and volume, "Losing Track" sounds like a Crazy Horse demo from Danny Whitten's lost heroin weekend sessions and "Love Has the Power" sways and pulses like The Dictators ballad that Handsome Dick Manitoba and his boys never attempted. And the album closes with the majestic "Sunrise," a towering five-and-a-half minute Punk anthem that somehow manages to corral all of the madness preceding it and herd it into a set-ending finale that explodes with the beautiful fury and smoke that typically accompanies a Rozzi fireworks display.
The reason The MudLarks! are able to tap into all these
various power sources and not overload the system is not because they're
simply familiar with their schematics, it's because they've lived with
them so intimately for so long. They understand the nuts and bolts of
every genre they've played, separately and together, over the past 40
years and they know perfectly well which parts are interchangeable and
will ultimately provide the best performance. Witt and Davidson trade
snarling guitar licks like Babe Ruth and Shoeless Joe Jackson playing
catch by smashing the ball back and forth to each other from bat to bat,
while Lamb and Cole maintain an adaptable rhythm that they can easily
shift from slow boulevard cruise to hyperspace warp jump in the blink of
a bloodshot eye.
There has been plenty of concrete evidence within our own music scene lately to prove that age does not equal obsolescence — witness the triumphant returns of the Warsaw Falcons and Ass Ponys — and The MudLarks! are yet another sterling example of an assertion that author P.J. O'Rourke made 20 years ago in the title of his 1995 essay collection; Age and Guile Beat Youth, Innocence and a Bad Haircut.
The new EP began as an entirely different project. Ill Poetic was working on a music video for The Synesthesia Yellow single “Silhouette.” The video grew into a short film and Ill Poetic changed course and created an entirely new EP, which he calls a “companion piece” to Synesthesia Yellow that also “exists in a universe of its own.”
“These are my words about love,” Ill Po says about the new project in a press release. “The record store opened me to genres of music I’d never been aware of but quickly fell in love with, greatly influencing my production. So the music is inspired by what I imagine my favorite artists and producers interpret love to be when they create. Each song is inspired by how I feel love translates through their music.”
On April 1, Ill Poetic’s made The Silhouette Project’s ethereal, melodic and soulful slo-mo jam “It’s All Around” available to stream on Spotify and purchase on iTunes. Check out the single via SoundCloud below.
The EP is being released through Ill Poetic’s Definition Music, which has morphed into a music, art and film collective. You can find out more about Definition Music here.
Ill Poetic is embarking on a Midwest tour in support of
the new EP that kicks of April 29 with a free show (it’s $5 for those
18-20) at Northside’s Urban Artifact. The show will
also feature performances by Raised x Wolves, FAROUT, Jay Al, Hafrican
and Ronin. Click here for details.
Earlier today, music website Northern Transmissions premiered the music video for “I Want Your Drugs,” the endearingly noisy and melodic first song on Cincinnati fuzzy, lo-fi Rock trio Bummers Eve’s recently released self-titled full-length. The trippy sheen that coats the song (a highlight on the overall great LP) is reflected in the video’s psychedelic swirl of flickering, morphing and over-exposed imagery. I was going to suggest that the video also clearly shows the band has plenty of drugs, but it looks and sounds like the musicians are having a blast. So, by all means, give Bummers Eve your drugs. You might need less after watching the video anyway.
Bummers Eve’s debut was released in late February (on vinyl, cassette and CD) through Brooklyn label Almost Ready Records, which has put out music from a variety of cultishly beloved bands. Read CityBeat’s review of the album here. And listen to/download the album at Bummers Eve’s Bandcamp page here; you can also order the physical formats through the site.
Bummers Eve recently put a lot of mileage on its van with a tour supporting the new release that included several shows in Austin, Texas during South By Southwest and dates on the West Coast. The tour wrapped up last week in Memphis. Keep an eye on the band's social media (here, for example) for the latest on the Bummers Eve, including future local show dates.
If there’s one benefit to being a part of Cincinnati’s small but mighty music scene, it’s the ability to meet and mingle with artists far outside of your own particular genre. This accessibility to other musicians and creators is what led to the Cincinnati Soundclash show, featuring Jess Lamb and the Factory, The Cliftones and Buggs Tha Rocka, at Over-the-Rhine’s Woodward Theater this Friday. The three 2016 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards winners will be joined by Dayton’s Moira and Cincinnati altrockers See You in the Funnies.
Lamb and The Cliftones met at the 2016 CEA awards show and immediately saw opportunities that couldn’t be passed up. Neither act had any major, local shows planned in the upcoming months, had the same date available and wanted to bring fans together for a night of vastly differing musical styles. (Read CityBeat’s recent interview with The Cliftones about their newly-released debut album here.)
While Lamb and The Cliftones have been planning this shindig for months, Buggs Tha Rocka entered the picture on a more casual basis, by simply hanging out with Lamb and her group at their base of operations. Talking about music led to rough vocal melodies, which led to rough pre-recordings, which led to tons of polishing and mixing to produce “Take Two” and “Just Breathe” (listen below). The two tracks will be available to show-goers as a free download from Soundcloud, with physical copies becoming available in the future.
While each act will be bringing their own unique styles to the Woodward stage, they will also be intermixing their performances to give show attendees a truly unique experience. Lamb will perform with the The Cliftones and Buggs Tha Rocka will be showcasing the two tracks that he has recorded with Lamb and the Factory at their home studio. And that’s just the beginning.
In addition to Lamb’s “Industrial Gospel,” The Cliftones’ Reggae and Buggs Tha Rocka’s Hip Hop on display, Moira’s ethereal Pop sensibilities and See You in the Funnies AltRock drive will round out what is assuredly one of the more eclectic lineups seen in town outside of a major festival.
The show is 18 and up, tickets are $7 in advance here, or $10 at the door. Show starts at 8 p.m.
Forget about Kermit the Frog's emerald-tinted angst, it's not easy being Joey Cook. The erstwhile multi-instrumentalist and songwriter known for his work with Cincinnati Indie Pop crew Pomegranates has long been stockpiling songs and ideas for solo projects, but with the completion of his very first full-length album, There Comes the Lord, he found himself in the midst of a slight identity crisis.
Cook couldn't release the album under his given name since that had already been claimed on Bandcamp by last year's seventh place finisher on American Idol. He considered using his proper first name but there was the risk of confusion with local R&B/Hip Hop sensation and 2016 Cincinnati Entertainment Awards New Artist of the Year nominee Joseph Nevels, aka JSPH. In the end, Cook chose to adopt the creatively misspelled moniker Joesph as his solo banner.
Although There Comes the Lord is largely Cook's true solo construction — his Pomegranates bandmate Isaac Karns appears on the quivery reverb '60s AM Pop of "Jesus" and the epic and sprawling closer "Spirit of the Lord," and his sister Alisa provides vocals on three tracks, but otherwise it's all Cook — he has fashioned a band, including Pomegranates bassist Pierce Geary and ex-Kickaways guitarist Devyn Glista on drums, which he's dubbed Joesph in order to play the new album as well as other material he's written.
According to Cook, last Saturday's intimate release show at White Whale Tattoo in Walnut Hills was a rousing success, and the album is already generating online sales.
As for the album itself, There Comes the Lord is a marvel of influence, invention and translation. Cook blends a brilliant evocation of ’60s and ’70s Pop and Rock with a thoroughly modern Indie Rock ethic in a raw and immediate home recorded atmosphere that serves as the soundtrack for an intriguing concept.
Cook, who self-identifies as Christian, has created a song cycle that imagines what it might have been like to stand in the presence of the physical manifestation of Jesus in the Godspell/Jesus Christ Superstar era that spawned a generation of long-haired believers who came to be known as Jesus freaks.
The difference is that Cook doesn't attempt to contemporize his message in an effort to appeal to millennials, nor does he use There Comes the Lord as a pulpit to proselytize and ultimately convert. He merely tells this interesting story in a wonderfully musical, lyrical and compellingly listenable manner.
The album begins with the title track, which comes into
focus through a gauzy haze of moody Synth Pop melodicism as Cook intones
quietly, "Oh, the Lord, He's right here, He's right here," until the
song's midway point when it explodes into a propulsive mash-up of the
Polyphonic Spree and The Flaming Lips. At the song's conclusion, "There
Comes the Lord" returns to the relative calm of its introduction, but
Cook maintains his blissful church choir perspective from beginning to
On "Jesus," Cook offers up a twisted Curt Boetcher/Association/’60s sunshine Pop flashback with a reverbed Byrds undertone - they are the band that originally noted Jesus was just alright, after all - as well as a uniquely modern revelatory lyric ("He showed me some shit I never knew before He came..."). And "Jesus" morphs buzzingly into the compelling Psych Folk Pop of "Wind Hovering Over Water," which quivers with the lysergic introspection and melancholic portent of the last iteration of The Monkees, when the quartet wanted to be Rock mystics and Mickey Dolenz had dibs on the shamanic frontman role.
Cook's ’70s evocation comes to a crescendo on the album's final four tracks; the gentle Harry Nilsson-meets-Velvet Underground warble-and-strum of "At a Well," the Kinks go-go cage dance of "My Master's House," and the Bowie demo snippet of "The Rolling Stone." It's all reminiscent of that magic time four decades ago when bands' theologies could easily co-exist with their musicologies, and the results could be spectacular.
Cook saves spectacular for the big 12-minute finish of There Comes the Lord. "Spirit of the Lord" opens with a Floydian synth drone/march and the imploring lyric, "Master, why did you let them take you?" which quickly erupts into the kind of organized chaos that Alice Cooper orchestrated to perfection, which leads to a Beatlesque "Blackbird" homage which in turn devolves into a Brian Eno soundscape, trembling on the surreal edge of perception.
And with that, There Comes the Lord is over all too soon. Cook has said that he's got at least a couple of albums' worth of albums stockpiled in his archive; if that material is anywhere near as engaging and mesmerizing as There Comes the Lord, Joesph could be gearing up for one of the most thrilling and provocative solo careers to emerge from a Cincinnati band in quite some time. Good news indeed.
Stream/purchase There Comes the Lord here.
Pop Empire first came together in 2009 as a duo. The group featured Henry Wilson, an audio engineer who worked on video sessions — like the cool one-shot live music video series, The Emery Sessions — with his father, renowned photographer Michael Wilson, and he has also done production and mastering work with Cincinnati acts like Aaron Collins, ADM and Shadowraptr. With Cameron Cochran (currently with The Midwestern Swing), the twosome released an EP and a full-length, 2011’s The Devil’s Party, before parting ways.
But that was far from the end of Pop Empire. Singer/songwriter/bassist Wilson joined forces with guitarist Ryan Back and the pair release the Future Blues LP in 2014, showcasing the strengthening of the Blues-tinged Psych Rock sound for which Pop Empire has become known.
The growth and evolution of Pop Empire continues as the band approaches the May release of a new EP, The Violent Bear It Away (the exact date is TBA). Now a trio with the addition of drummer Jake Langknecht, the group is in peak form, and the new tracks reflect the musical chemistry and potent live energy of the current configuration.
“These songs were written through a collaborative process since we began playing in our current three-piece Garage Punk setup,” Wilson says about the forthcoming EP, which features four tracks and was recorded by Wilson and the band at their Northside practice space.
Here is the premiere of the EP track, “Psyche,” a trippy, glammy strutter that brings to mind a blend of T Rex and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
After The Violent Bear It Away’s release, Pop Empire is planning to support the EP with Midwestern and East Coast touring in June. Hometown fans won’t have to wait that long to see the band. The trio plays Northside Yacht Club on March 12 with locals Orchards, New Jersey’s The Off White and New York’s Psychiatric Metaphors. And on March 22 at Northside’s The Comet, Pop Empire and Us, Today will be the special guests of Dawg Yawp, which is playing the club’s every-Tuesday residency this month.
Keep tabs on Pop Empire’s latest happenings here.
An EP can be a risky endeavor for any musician. The shorter run time leaves little room for a filler track; the artist has to make their impression and showcase their style in the span of time it takes for some full-lengths to start stretching their legs. Of course, crafting a journey for the listener is a bit easier when their leader is a scene veteran with a wide array of releases to his name. And that’s exactly what makes Northern Kentucky resident Jimmy Snowden’s new EP, Mandarin, so enjoyable. (In his solo guise, Snowden is billed as simply “Jims.”)
Snowden is a member of Cincinnati-area acts like Smoke Signals… and Sweet Ray Laurel, and each of his projects places a spotlight on his myriad influences, from unpredictable Post Punk to acoustic-guitar-driven Indie Pop. Mandarin’s five tracks are undeniably Snowden’s design, each showing a fragment of his musical sensibilities. As a whole, they coalesce to provide a complete picture of the artist and his broad skill set. Snowden wrote, performed, and recorded the EP entirely on his own, and Mandarin bleeds Snowden’s individual playstyles as a result.
The first track, “Systems,” has an initially startling introduction. The track features vocal loops layered over downplayed percussion and acoustic guitar, which lead to a track that mixes unease and catchy melody in equal measure. It highlights Snowden’s more experimental qualities before allowing the rest of the EP to showcase his more traditional, Indie roots. It may not initially line up with the rest of the EP’s auditory aesthetic, but it’s an important track due to its insight into Snowden’s more forceful proclivities.
What follows are four tracks that thematically fall in line more evenly than what “Systems” initially hints at. “She’s Down” and “Hey Nola” feature driving guitar riffs and unconventional percussion set just under Snowden’s emotive singing voice. Snowden’s layering techniques are in full effect on each track. At times, it sounds like Snowden was running between instruments during recording to give each their own standout moment in the mix. The guitar is the star of the show, with Snowden crafting licks that enter your eardrum, weave into the folds of your brain and take up residence long after the disc has stopped spinning.
On the final tracks, “LOVE” and “ALONE,” Snowden takes his formula and makes subtle shifts to alter the mood and take the listener to a more introspective and thoughtful place. “LOVE” introduces keys at critical points of the song to create an almost mournful tone to the balance of guitar and upbeat percussion. Snowden carries the same feeling into “ALONE” by stripping away almost every layer that he had so carefully constructed on the previous tracks and focusing mainly on his vocals and guitar. What comes out on the other side is an artist laid bare. It’s a song that easily climbs beyond its self-imposed limitations and works as a suitably antithetical bookend with EP opener, “Systems.”
While Mandarin’s run time is a scant 14 minutes, Snowden is able to expose his listeners to the many elements of his musical style that enables him to be a part of so many disparate bands and be successful with all of them. Mandarin is a release that gives new listeners a fantastic introduction to Snowden’s skills. But for those of us who are already aware, it’s a solid reminder of his eclectic talents.
A pair of Cincinnati Rock bands had new projects revealed today on a couple of popular and far-reaching music websites.
Wussy’s music video for “Dropping Houses,” the first single from the band’s forthcoming Forever Sounds album, debuted on Stereogum this morning. The clip was made locally, directed by Lightborne’s Scott Fredette (who gets a shout-out in the accompanying write-up and also plays with local band Culture Queer). Check the clip out below.
Forever Sounds is released by the Cincy imprint Shake It on March 4 and the band plays a pre-release show this Saturday at Woodward Theater. Read CityBeat’s cover story on the band from last week here.
Meanwhile, another band with national/international attention on them growing, Electric Citizen, has its second album for the Riding Easy label, Higher Time, due for release May 13 (you can pre-order here). Today the website for popular Rock mag Revolver premiered a new song from the album, “Golden Mean.” Click here to listen.
The Higher Time track “Evil” can be heard below.
Electric Citizen heads out on an extensive European tour supporting Wolfmother beginning in April.